The battle between the Moore League’s two best programs lived up to its billing, as Millikan pushed Long Beach Poly to the limit Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The Jackrabbits were able to keep their Moore League win streak intact–it dates back to 2009–but the Rams gave them their closest game in league of the last decade, trailing by just seven points in the fourth quarter before Poly pulled away to win it, 42-28.
The Jackrabbits got a sensational performance from junior running back Devin Samples, who had 35 carries for 284 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Samples’ effort was especially impressive given that he came into the game injured.
“I had to fight through it, I knew we needed a big game out of me,” said Samples. The stout back came out of the game at one point after aggravating his foot injury, but said he couldn’t stay on the sideline as he watched Millikan come back and bring the game to within a score. “I just said I can’t sit out, my team needs me–I have to be there.”
The game opened with a strong drive from Millikan, aided by Poly penalties, which were a major theme of the night. The Jackrabbits had a whopping 22 penalties for 230 yards in the game, and they gave the Rams two first downs via flags on their opening drive. Millikan stalled out at the Poly 31 on a turnover on downs, and Poly quickly took a 7-0 lead on a Samples-dominated drive capped by a four-yard rushing touchdown from Shea Kuykendall. After holding Millikan on their next drive, Poly took a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter with another run-heavy drive, with QB Darius Curry punching it in for the score.
Millikan answered that with its first scoring drive. Poly held the Rams to a punt, but then roughed the punter to extend Millikan’s drive, which ended with RB Brodie Wojcik plunging in for a score. Kuykendall was intercepted by Jaden Hunt on Poly’s next drive, but Wendell “WoWo” Moe hopped on a fumble for Poly to take it back from Millikan. Samples scored his first touchdown immediately after to make it 21-7.
Millikan had a chance to cut it to seven again towards the end of the half, after three Poly pass interference penalties gave them a gift of a first and goal at the 4. But the Jackrabbits defense stuffed the Rams four times, with Moe tackling Jackson short of the goal line on fourth and goal.
In the second half, another Samples TD made it 28-7, but things changed quickly after that.
Millikan got a 70-yard touchdown on an inside screen to Ryan Pellum, who broke it loose and wasn’t caught. With Samples on the sideline, the Poly offense floundered for most of the quarter. Millikan came alive under Jackson. The sophomore finished with 272 yards passing and three scores, as he hit Angelo Miranda to make it 28-21 with less than ten minutes remaining in the game. Poly wasn’t having any thoughts of a possible Rams win, however, as Samples busted off a 50-yard touchdown the next play. Millikan did answer with another Jackson-to-Pellum connection (Pellum finished with 127 yards receiving and two scores).
“We had way too many penalties,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “We have to be better at that. We can’t keep other teams in the game, we can’t extend their drives for them. We have to put teams away, we can’t ease off. We’ve got to keep getting better every day and every week.”
There was a lot to be happy for on the Jackrabbits’ side. They ran the ball effectively, with 327 yards on the ground at a 7.3 yards per carry clip. QBs Kuykendall and Curry were both efficient as well, combining to go 10/14 for 154 yards. In addition to Kuykendall’s interception, however, Curry was picked off by Arizona commit Tacario Davis.
There was perhaps even more to be happy for on the Millikan sideline, despite the result being a loss.
“I told my kids, don’t put your head down,” said Rams coach Romeo Pellum. “It’s a step in the right direction. We have the ball in the red zone twice and we don’t score. There’s opportunities there. But we won’t see another team like that again all season. We showed that we can be disciplined and make big plays in big games–we can compete. The future looks bright.”
Poly (2-3, 1-0) will host Wilson next week for Homecoming, and will have almost its entire roster available for the first time this season as players return from injury and are cleared from the CIF-SS sitout period. Millikan (2-4, 1-1) will host rival Lakewood in the Hamilton Bowl game next week.